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Unpublished Twain work up for bid

Mark Twain, known for his curmudgeonly wit and storytelling, is shown as a family man and loving father in "A Family Sketch," a never published tribute to a daughter who inspired two of his stories and died at 24 after contracting spinal meningitis.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mark Twain, known for his curmudgeonly wit and storytelling, is shown as a family man and loving father in "A Family Sketch," a never published tribute to a daughter who inspired two of his stories and died at 24 after contracting spinal meningitis.

"She was a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force," he wrote of Olivia "Susy" Clemens shortly after her death in 1896.

"In all things she was intense: in her this characteristic was not a mere glow, dispensing warmth, but a consuming fire," he said of the daughter who was the inspiration for his "Joan of Arc" and "A Horse's Tale."

The 64-page, handwritten document is among a trove of 200 personal letters, manuscripts and photographs of Mark Twain — the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens — going on sale June 17 at Sotheby's New York.

The auction house will exhibit the material for five days, beginning Wednesday, on the 100th anniversary of the author's death at age 74. The Associated Press got a preview earlier this week.

"'A Family Sketch' is certainly one of the gems of the Sotheby's sale," said Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Projects at the University of California at Berkeley, which has the largest repository of Twain material. "Any Mark Twain archive or collector would be willing to go hungry for two or three years just in order to be able to buy it."

Hirst called it a "very intimate family record, with all of the charm both of Clemens himself," his family and household servants. It is estimated to sell for $120,000 to $180,000.

Twain was also a prolific letter-writer.

Mary Altaffer / AP

"It's fair to say he wrote more letters than anyone," said Twain biographer Michael Shelden, noting that about 15,000 are known to exist.

Among those at Sotheby's is a letter to Twain's future father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, in which the love-struck suitor, then working as a newspaperman, defends his character and offers a list of character references.

"I am not hurrying my love — it is my love hurrying me...," Twain wrote Langdon. "As to what I am going to be, henceforth, it is a thing which must be proven & established. I am upon the right path — I shall succeed, I hope. Men as lost as I, have found a Savior, & why not I?"

The nine-page letter, written in 1868 and signed Sam L. Clemens, is estimated to sell for $30,000 to $50,000.

The total collection, which could bring $750,000 to $1.2 million, belonged to the late media executive James S. Copley, whose library of other literary and historic manuscripts also will be sold June 17.

Hirst said the University of California, which controls the copyright on "A Family Sketch" and virtually everything else by Mark Twain that is still protected by copyright, will be bidding at the auction, but he declined to say on what.

The university is editing and publishing — for the first time — Twain's uncensored autobiography in its entirety and exactly as he left it. The first of three volumes will be released by the UC Press in November, on the 175th anniversary of his birth.

Hirst said "A Family Sketch" will not be included in the three-volume set because it is not part of what Twain designed as his autobiography. Instead, the university plans to publish the work — either from the original or copies it owns — in a series called "Jumping Frogs," he said.

The Mark Twain House, the whimsical, Gothic house in Hartford, Conn., where the Twains lived for 17 years, is now a museum. While the curators at the house would love to own the original sketch, they frequently use a transcript to cull anecdotes about the family for its guided tours.

Image: Samuel Langhorne Clemens
In this undated portrait released by The Mark Twain House & Museum, author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens is shown. (AP Photo/The Mark Twain House & Museum)

"It talks a lot about the family's life while they were in Hartford," said curator Patti Philoton. "It really gives you that personal feeling, what it was like when they lived here, their family dynamics and their dynamics with their servants."

In 1893, Twain asked his butler, George Griffin, to accompany him on a trip to his publisher. The sight of a white man with a black man "was a new spectacle" to the array of assembled clerks, he wrote in the sketch. "The glance embarrassed George, but not me, for the companionship was proper; in some ways he was my equal, in some others my superior ..."

"A Family Sketch" also provides a glimpse into Twain's childhood in a passage in which he describes shooting a bird as a prank.

"It toppled from its perch & came floating down limp & forlorn & fell at my feet, its song quenched and its inoffending life extinguished ... I had destroyed it wantonly, & I felt all that an assassin feels, of grief & remorse when his deed comes home to him & he wishes he could undo it ..."

The last time a large collection of Twain material was offered at auction was in 2003, also at Sotheby's. That collection, which contained more memorabilia and souvenirs, sold for $1.4 million.

The upcoming sale is focused primarily on manuscript material that shows Twain "as a father and devoted husband and how important his family was to him throughout his entire lifetime," said Elizabeth Muller, Sotheby's vice president of books and manuscripts.

While there is a wealth of material on Mark Twain and fresh documents come up regularly, the Copley collection "will add to the picture" of a man who continues to inspire and entertain to this day, Shelden said.

"He wanted to perpetuate his fame," Shelden said. "He was very proud of himself and very proud of what he had written. He was full of himself ... and had reason to be."